Do you find yourself almost mute when someone close to you is in
crisis, or discouraged? What can we say that will pull them out of
the depths of their misery? We try to be a comfort to them just by
showing up – being at their side is a sign that they aren’t alone.
We do our best to speak words of encouragement, "Everything will
turn out okay. Don’t worry." We are well intentioned, but try as we
can, our words can’t rescue them from their distress. Our words
can’t fulfill what they say – solve the problem, raise the spirits,
drive away the pain.
But then there is God, who promises to be with us and not walk
out on us in hard times. God, who speaks words of comfort that
actually do what they say – console and strengthen. Today we hear
Isaiah speak for God to the Israelites, who are in a miserable,
Babylonian exile. They are a defeated and a shamed people. Nothing
could be more impossible. Forget about returning to the promised
land; forget about rebuilding the torn-down Jerusalem; forget about
ever worshiping again in their revered Temple – it lay in complete
To the people and hopeless exiles Isaiah speaks words of comfort
from God. "Be strong, fear not! Here is your God who comes with
vindication." The people have nothing to pin their hopes on. Their
situation is impossible. They can’t help themselves – but God can.
Can they trust the words the prophet speaks to them?
I note the threefold repetition of the promise-packed "then."
It is an assurance of God’s noticing their plight and a promise of
help. It isn’t our, "There, there, things will be okay." – as
well-intentioned as those words are meant to be. No, it’s God
speaking words of absolute assurance, "Then will the eyes of
the blind be opened… Then will the lame leap like a stag…
Then the tongue of the mute will sing." As impossible as it
seems, "Then," God promises, "it will happen."
What can we do about the present scandal and mess our church is
in these days? Are we back to the times of the corrupt Renaissance
church? When and how will God lead us out of this new exile?
Certainly there is work for us all to do. But mere human effort will
not bring about a healed and renewed church. "Speak, Lord, your
servants are listening." Today’s Psalm joins Isaiah’s voice of
promise: "The Lord sets captives free. The Lord gives sight to the
blind, the Lord raises up those who were bowed down." And I want to
ask, "When will this happen, O Lord?" I try to put faith in Isaiah’s
words: "Then" it will come about. It will happen." How? When?
As broken and corrupt as the church was in the Renaissance (circa
1419-1699) God raised up powerful, prophetic and healing people
like: Theresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, Rose
of Lima, Pius V, etc. They rekindled and renewed the faith in their
times. What will God do for us now in our new exile? Will God speak
through our church leaders? Let’ hope, though some have failed us
miserably. We will need to be more inclusive and attentive to the
laity who bring their gifts, diligence and service to us. But are we
open to hear these prophetic witnesses to God’s voice and presence
We have to admit we haven’t been very receptive to our laity in
the past. We clerics have frequently treated them as second-class
members. While we might have accepted their help, we have not always
listened to God speaking to us through them. We need to hear and
receive the gifts the laity have to give us throughout the
institutional structures of our church. If we are receptive,
Isaiah’s promise to the exiles will once again be fulfilled among
us. "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of
the deaf be cleared. Then will the lame leap like a stag,
Then the tongue of the mute will sing." Today, from our current
exile, we call on God to fulfill those promises.
In Jesus’ healing of the deaf man, Mark is clearly linking his
ministry to Isaiah’s prophecy. The messianic mission Isaiah foretold
is fulfilled in Jesus. He enables the deaf to hear, the blind to see
and the lame to walk – just as Isaiah promised. In Jesus the hopes
of those in exile have been fulfilled. God has done what humans
couldn’t. The "then moment" is no longer a future hope to be
longed for. It is a present reality.
A friend, whose hearing has deteriorated these past years, has
just gotten a hearing aid. It’s one of those high tech ones and is
almost invisible when he wears it. He claims it’s like a miracle.
Now he can hear the soft voice of his three-year-old granddaughter;
his wife when she speaks to him from the next room and, to his
family’s relief, he doesn’t have to have the volume of the TV
blaring. Suppose he were completely deaf, like the man in the
gospel? How could my friend start and build new relationships? How
difficult it would be to deepen those he already has.
The first words the deaf man in the gospel would have heard were
those Jesus spoke, "Ephphatha – Be opened!" After that miracle the
man not only hears, he speaks plainly. Jesus was traveling in
Gentile territory, so the deaf man probably was a Gentile. Religious
folk would have considered him outside the pale. When Jesus was in
his own territory he met opposition from the Pharisees and the
scribes. You would have thought these religious leaders, with their
knowledge of the prophets, would have recognized Jesus’ anointed
mission. But, though they had physical hearing and sight, they were
deaf and blind to Jesus.
That is a serious message for us religious folk. While the
religious people were closed to Jesus, those in need were not. Their
helplessness left them open to his love and healing touch. The
disabled and outcasts are healed and the outsiders welcomed by him.
In the church’s baptismal liturgy the presider touches the ears
and mouth of the child with his thumb and prays that the Lord will
"...soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to
proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God, the Father."
That moment begins our journey of listening to God’s word and
putting it into practice throughout our lives. Like the deaf man
healed by Jesus, our ears are opened and we speak plainly, by words
and deeds, what we have heard in God’s word.
We pray for a mind and heart opened to Jesus today as he speaks
to us in his word and through those around us, especially the
neediest and most vulnerable. Have we heard him in their need? If
not, we ask Jesus to do for us what he did for the deaf man – touch
our ears and speak his "Ephphatha." Then, like the man, we too will
speak plainly and declare God’s love for all – especially the
least and the outsider.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.
the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear
Isaiah presents a reassuring vision of God’s healing and
restorative powers and it is all done nonviolently. Of course, I am
talking about the God of Love. How could God act lovingly in any way
but a nonviolent way? As we see in the New Testament, nonviolence is
the way of Jesus and, for the first three hundred years of
Christianity, nonviolence was also the rule. Now, with 2000 plus
years of hindsight, nonviolence is being reclaimed by many
As Pope Francis writes his Message on the Fiftieth World Day of
Peace 2017, "Violence is not the cure for our broken world.
Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations
and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are
diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young
people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and
the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to
the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all. .
. To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his
teaching about nonviolence."
Nonviolence entails actions to gain objectives without the use of
violence, which is overwhelmingly rejected in all instances. To be a
nonviolent person, takes a lot of work in this violent world of
ours. We need to recall frequently, "Be strong, fear not!" This
coming September 15-23 is Campaign Nonviolence NC Week. Centered
around the U.N. International Day of Peace (9/21), this week is part
of the national Campaign Nonviolence grassroots movement with over
2,000 actions across the United States during this time period.
Locally, Mayor Nancy McFarlane has made an official proclamation
promoting this week. This year, CNV NC will have three major events
and YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND:
Learn: "Speak No Evil: Creating the U.S. Constitution" on
Constitution Day, September 17, 7-9PM, Community United Church of
Christ, 814 Dixie Trail, Raleigh
Act: "Happiness is Homemade Forum: Affordable Housing Promotes
Nonviolent Living", September 18, 7-9PM, Highland United Methodist
Church, 1901 Ridge Rd., Raleigh
Pray: "Toward Wholeness: Prayer Vigil for Nonviolence", September
20, 7-9PM, Sacred Heart Church, 200 Hillsborough St., Raleigh
Fear not, follow Jesus in his nonviolent way.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
put his finger into the man’s ears
spitting, touched his tongue,
immediately the man’s ears were opened
he spoke plainly
Baptism begins our journey. Like the deaf man healed by Jesus,
our ears are opened to the word of God and we can speak plainly, by
words and deeds, what we have heard God say to us.
So we ask ourselves:
- What opportunities am I taking to hear God’s word?
- What parts of my life need to be reshaped by what I am
POSTCARDS TO WOMEN
DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty
is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever
form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Carlette Parker #0311386 (On death row since 4/1/99)
- Blanche Moore #0288088 (11/16/90)
- Christiana Walters #0626944 (7/6/00)
1034 Bragg Street, 4287 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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